As we look ahead to Saturday’s NFC divisional playoff game between the Falcons and Philadelphia Eagles, I was contacted this week by pal and long-time Philadelphia Inquirer columnist Bob Ford for my thoughts on the game. So he sends me an email, and I send him an email, and it continues, and the next thing you know we’ve got this. (Tip: When you’re having a conversation with somebody from Philly, come equipped with ammunition.)
• Him: Jeff, always good to catch up with you. First, though, I was trying to get some research straight. Can you help me? Was it the Falcons that blew a 25-point lead in the Super Bowl and Georgia that blew a 13-point lead in the national title game or was it the other way around? Need to get this right.
• Me: Hi Bob. Good to hear from you. I see your career is moving in a new direction -- you're doing research. I can't remember the scores of the games you asked about, although I do have a vague recollection of the Falcons and Georgia holding leads late in recent championship games. This is something you don't have to worry about in Philadelphia, although kudos to Temple for winning the Bad Boy Mowers Gasparilla Bowl. Maybe now they can have a playoff with Central Florida. The winner can hold a parade around the Island of Lost Boys. By the way, loved, "Invincible." Please regale me with more Tommy McDonald stories from 1960.
• Him: Speaking of research, I was looking at the history of recent championships in Atlanta and there must be a misprint in this guide. It only shows one for the Braves in 1995. But that can't be right because they won, like, 14 straight divisions. But that's what it says, and none for the Falcons and none for the Hawks. And, just to be accurate, how many NHL teams have left Atlanta because the Northwest Territory would be more profitable? Was it two or three?
• Me: Yes, we have warehouses full of ticker tape, waiting to be dropped. But it occurred to me that the Falcons came into the NFL in 1966 and their string of championship-less seasons still is shorter than the Eagles. How does that happen? Actually, and maybe I miscounted, Philadelphia's four corners of misery (Eagles, Phillies, Sixers and Flyers) have combined for exactly one championship in the past 35 years. How does the Philly fan base simultaneously excel at both arrogance and failure? Braves fans love the Phillies. They've actually lost more games than the Braves in the past three years: 286-278. And if you see Gary Bettman, kick him in the shins for us. By the way, what the hell is a flyer?
• Him: Beats me. What was a Thrasher? Did they kick the covers off the bed every night? Anyway, let's get nitty-gritty into this game. People want inside information, and we're just the guys. In Philly, where he is a homeboy, people want to know what gives with Matt Ryan this season. He was MVP with 38 TDs and seven interceptions last season, but had 20 and 12 this time around. I know that Julio Jones and Mohamed Sanu with their 13 combined drops have made Torrey Smith look like Mr. Goodhands, but what happened to the Ice Man?
• Me: The brown thrasher is the Georgia state bird, not to be confused with Philly's finest, the loading-dock, Winston-smoking pigeon. The real "Matty Ice" on this team right now is kicker Matt Bryant. He has made 34 of 39 field-goal attempts, including 8 of 9 from 50-plus yards, and I think he's even older than you. The other Matt has taken a step back with the offense. You accurately point out the drops by receivers and pass protection hasn't always been great, but Ryan isn't as sharp this season. Some blame new offensive coordinator Steve Sarkisian, who's almost as unpopular as Kyle Shanahan was in 2015, until Shanahan became brilliant a year later, until the fourth quarter of the Super Bowl and nobody wants to talk about that. People in Atlanta have been waiting for the 2016 offense to show up. By the way, speaking of offense, can you send me some new Eagles stats? The sheet I have references Nick Foles. It must be from 2014.
• Him: Yeah, about that. Folks here are pretty bummed that Carson Wentz tore up his knee and are trying to convince themselves that Nick can get the job done this time. No one was all that upset when Foles got sent off for Sam Bradford, even when Sammy eventually had to be catapulted up to Minnesota. It turns out that Bradford could be on a Super Bowl team before the Eagles, but, well, it wouldn't be like trading away a young Brett Favre. What team would do that? So, I see the Falcons started 4-4 and then won six of their last eight to make the postseason. So which team are they?
• Me: Ken Herock drafted Favre and Deion Sanders. Not sure if those guys ever stuck in the league, but they couldn't make it here. The top draft priorities in the offseason will be a guard and a hypnotherapist. In the first six games, they almost lost to Mike Glennon, beat Aaron Rodgers, but lost to Jay Cutler. The offense functions best when it centers on runs and passes to backs Devonta Freeman and Tevin Coleman. But the defense is now the team's strength. I figure if they can smother the Rams, who led the NFL in scoring this season, they can stop a backup quarterback. I feel sorry for Foles. If Eagles fans assaulted Santa, what are they going to do to Foles? By the way, do they still have penitentiaries in the stadiums there, like in the old Vet? Is there one just for the drunk, cheap-seat fans and one for the white-collar crime convicts in the suites? I love Philadelphia. It's such a melting pot of malfeasance. (Go ahead. You can use that.)
• Him: Well, enough of this frivolity. Let's get right to it. Who will win? If I were uninvolved and sitting in Las Vegas, I wouldn't touch this game. Neither team inspires real confidence at the moment. But I do like the Eagles at home (let's face it, they're due) and I think Nick the Quick will spaghetti-arm his way into franchise lore. Thinking something like 23-16, Eagles.
• Me: I love the "they're due" reasoning. That strategy always works well in Vegas. "ONE MORE ROLL! ONE MORE ROLL!" The Eagles haven't won a home playoff game since 2006. The Falcons haven't won a road playoff game in…a week. We agree on 23-16. But I'll take the Falcons by the same score.
• Him: We're such homers.
• Me: I get that a lot.
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